‘Mission: Impossible’ Writer Reveals Reason Tom Cruise Had Original Characters Killed Off

by Megan Molseed

In 1996, Tom Cruise’s then-brand-new production company, Cruise/Wagner brought one classic TV series to the big screen with the first Mission: Impossible film. Fans were eagerly awaiting this production but they soon realized the story would veer away from the series quite a bit when the filmmakers kill off nearly the entire Mission: Impossible team during the film’s first few moments.

Tom Cruise’s 1996 Film, Mission: Impossible Veers From The Original Classic TV Series Removing The Ensemble Aspect

In a recent discussion on the podcast series, Script Apart, one of the screenwriters for the 1996 Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible film, David Koepp discusses the controversial decision to kill off the team during the movie’s first few moments.

The original Mission: Impossible TV series hit the airwaves in 1966. The series stars Peter Graves; Barbara Bain; Greg Morris, and Martin Landau, among others. The series relied heavily on the show’s ensemble cast – which makes up the Mission: Impossible team. However, when Tom Cruise steps in as Ethan Hunt for the film, this ensemble idea was tossed aside. Turning the team-based plot into a story about a lone survivor.

Audiences were extra shocked by this move after seeing some big names included on the ill-fated Mission: Impossible team. Big names such as Kristin Scott Thomas and Emilio Esteves. This decision, Koepp notes, was done so the audience’s focus of the film would remain where the creators intended it to be…on the movie’s big-name star, Tom Cruise.

“He’s like ‘Look, it’s an ensemble, so we have to start it like an ensemble, kill everybody, so we’ve only got one left, and he’s the star, and let him put together another team. But we’ll always orient it around him,'” David Koepp says of the approach that the film’s director, Brian De Palma, took for the film.

“Which was a brilliant idea,” Koepp adds of the storyline.

Mission: Impossible Screenwriter, David Koepp Discusses The Reason For Killing Off The Team In The Film Series

During his discussion on the Script Apart podcast, David Koepp notes that, initially, creating a Mission: Impossible film with one headlining star seemed like an idea destined to fail. Especially taking into account the premise of the original TV series. However, the creators decided to alter the storyline a bit, creating the popular film franchise we know today.

“There’s a fundamental flaw in Mission: Impossible as a movie with Tom Cruise, as a concept. It’s an idea that should not work,” David Koepp explains. However, the screenwriter notes that the concept did work after all.

“It is essentially an ensemble, that is its very nature,” Koepp says of the Mission: Impossible series.

“It’s a team movie if it’s based on the [original 1960s Mission: Impossible] television show. So, for this ensemble movie, the one piece of casting is the biggest movie star in the world. So, it’s just not going to work.”

Koepp adds that De Palma’s approach to “kill everybody,” was an interesting take. And, Koepp says, he had a point. “That’s his approach on a number of films. But in this one, in particular, it really worked.”